Two Evansville Men Had Front-Row Seats To Indy Race Debacle

(Editor's note: This story first appeared in Wednesday's Business Watch e-mail, from our partner Evansville Business. You can be among the first the receive these interesting local stories by signing up on the Business Watch page.)

Two Evansville men, attending separately, had front-row seats to what may have been the greatest debacle in U.S. motor racing in Indianapolis on Sunday.

Bill McCormick, who owns McCormick Communications, a Cingular and SBC distributor, and Brian Buxton of Buxton Motorsports, a dealer in high-end cars, were attending the U.S. Grand Prix and watched as nearly three-quarters of the cars dropped out before the first official lap.

"All of a sudden the teams move into the pits and move their cars into the garage," Buxton said. "You could kind of hear a gasp in the crowd. A lot of people left; a lot of people were booing."

Fourteen of the 20 cars in the Formula One race, a European motor sport series that has been trying to gain popularity in this country, withdrew before the race, citing safety concerns about the Michelin tires they were using.

Buxton, who closely follows Formula One racing, said new rules required cars to race on the tires used in qualifications, but the Michelin tires provided to teams were a "soft, sticky set'' that would not stand up to high-speeds on high, banked corners. "(Michelin) didn't test this new compound or new design on the high loads," Buxton said.

According to Buxton, at a race in Germany several weeks before the Indianapolis event, Michelin warned racing teams of problems with the tires. "But they didn't do anything about it," Buxton said.

Not only did the crowd of approximately 100,000 boo the racers as they pulled off the track, McCormick saw people throwing bottles and cans on the track as the cars left in the race continued. "This was a bad scene," McCormick said. "It was a mess."

In addition to throwing bottles and cans, McCormick said some fans began rhythmically stomping the metal bleachers they were sitting in, nearly rocking the stands. "I really envisioned it being like the end of an ugly (soccer) World Cup Match. The (fans) were rabid. There were people who were intoxicated and they had come to see a race and they were mad," McCormick said.

Police were called in keep order, but both McCormick and Buxton said fans, including themselves, were out a significant amount of money. McCormick said he had to pre-pay three nights a hotel and pay for race tickets that cost more than $100. "When you're done buying souvenirs, gas and food for three days, you're over a thousand dollars," he said.

Buxton said not only was he asking for a refund, but would not be renewing his tickets for next year's race until he received the refund. According to Buxton, ticket buyers for the U.S. Grand Prix have previously been required to renew their tickets a year in advance and their credit cards or bank accounts are immediately charged.

Buxton purchases 17 tickets each year for friends and clients. "If they've got 200,000 people who come to this race, they're putting $130 million in a bank account and drawing interest on it for a year," he said.

However, when Buxton called the Indianapolis Speedway this week, he was told he would not be charged for renewing his tickets until officials figured out what to do about a possible refund. But McCormick and Buxton got a bargain when compared to what other race fans shelled out.

McCormick and his wife, Jan, were sitting beside a woman from Britain who had spent $2,400 to fly in the day before the race, as well as two Germans who had traveled to Indianapolis. However, even after all the problems, McCormick is betting the U.S. Grand Prix returns to Indianapolis next year. "This race brings a ton of money to the city," he said. "I'd be stunned if they didn't come back.'